Whisper and Holler
Steph Casey, a New Zealand-based singer/songwriter, sure has a lot of American muses. Among those whose influences you’ll hear are Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars, whose dulcet tones resemble Casey’s. When you debut at age 39, you’ve outgrown both wide-eyed optimism and close-minded cynicism. Casey opens with three songs of loss, including “Nice to Know You,” a sticks-in-your-head song that highlights the catch in her voice. Only then does she change the mood with offerings such as “Thievery,” a no-punches-pulled song of longing; or “Heavy Warm Heart,” an off-kilter number of accented beats and sonorous cello and viola that add depth to Casey’s light voice. Add some splashes of soul (the Hammond-enhanced “No Love”), two duets with veteran New York punk rocker Gary Sunshine, and a pop-splashed beach song (“Kapiti”) and you’ve got a solid debut, no matter when in life it arrives.
King Khan and The Shrines
Idle No More
You may like, loathe, or feel indifferent toward the sounds of King Khan, but chances are you won’t hear any record made this year with such a clear, steadfast gaze toward the ragged pop of the ’60s. Everything from the the junky, jangly guitar to the bouncing bass and the shouty vocals feels triumphantly retro, in an R&B, garage band way. Somehow, this doesn’t read as mere homage or throwback. That’s probably because of Khan’s weirdly compelling voice and the consistently solid, relentlessly happy songwriting. In some respects, Idle No More feels like quirky contemporary songwriting produced like it was 1969. The nearest analogue is local: King Khan’s combo of psychedelic freakout and Tiki bar flamboyance is quite well done, but he’d probably be bested in a cage match with Northampton’s Lord Russ.
Pura Vida Conspiracy
With an energetic, big-band sound that blends more cultures than the R&D department at a yogurt factory, New York-based Gogol Bordello has a storied career of electrifying live shows and recordings that often border on the comedic, or at least theatrical. It describe itself as “Gypsy Punk,” but the currently 9-piece ensemble blends elements as seemingly incompatible as Eastern European music and Southern California punk rock. Ukrainian frontman Eugene Hutz constantly channels a bizarre mixture of Freddie Mercury, Jello Biafra, Borat and Cheech Marin, and surrounds himself with, alternately, crunchy electric guitars, horns, accordions and sizzling fiddles amidst athletic-level drums and percussion. Hutz’ lyrical subject matter weavess from music to sex, autobiography, politics and bizarre cultural commentary. The vibe is contagiously catchy and physically motivational, though ultimately it makes you want to see the band live more than listen to the record.